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I loved traveling.
It was for research mostly. I worked as a paranormal investigator, going from place to place with my crew, to search for local “sightings” or “otherworldly instances”. My team ran a rather well-known YouTube channel, “The Plasmatics”. I guessed it was supposed to be some sort of pun on how most people believed ghosts were made of ectoplasm, or something like that, but truth be told, it was kind of dumb.
The latest case we’d been assigned on was a doozy. Some kids who decided they’d rather be out smoking little rolls of shredded grass instead of being in school reported a sighting of a something “creepy as Hell”, out in a little town up north. And by up north, I mean nearly forty miles away from where we were already stationed. The plea for our help came in the package of a nicely written little email, complete with an amount of improper grammar that could make a literature teacher suicidal. It was a jumble of letters, and I almost deleted it. Almost.
I probably should have, looking back on it. Even looking that damn letter over was a mistake. I should have clicked that little trash-can button, closed my laptop, and gone back to kicking Jonah’s ass in Street Fighter. It would have been safer. It would have been different.
But instead, I looked it over, calling the guys to double-check what I couldn’t pronounce. Turns out, I’m not “up to par” with new generation lingo, or as Leo likes to tease me about, I’m not “down with the flow”. Whatever.
They both skimmed the message, Jonah already researching the name of the hospital on his phone as Leo called out the name of the town. I was already looking at one bright screen, and the moment the light from his phone shot into my face, my eyes threatened to implode.
“Damnit!” I mumbled, pushing the screen from my face, “Don’t do that!”
“Check it out!” He replied, so filled with energy that my irritation was completely ignored, “They might not be the smartest kids, but they might be onto something! Turns out the place they were lighting up at is an old mental hospital, famous for burning down, and having a prisoner breakout, all in the same night!”
“That’s messed up.” Leo mumbled, flipping his bangs out of his eyes. I always told him to trim his hair, but apparently he liked the “old-age pop star” look, because every time I saw him enter a room, I swore it had grown an inch in length.
“You sure they’re not screwing with us?”
“Dude, do you really think a group of teenagers would really go through the trouble of locating our website, sending us an email, and sending us a picture of the place?”
I narrowed my brows, giving the photo attached a brief glance. It looked like an innocent enough place, rickety, and charred around the edges. The fire hadn’t done as much damage as I’d thought it would have. Control of the situation must have been taken really fast.
“They might.” I replied finally, leaning back to bend my arms behind my head. “You can’t trust people for bull these days, man. Especially kids.”
“I agree with Leo.” Jonah muttered. “Think about it. If we showcased this place on our channel, it’d be an instant hit. People love asylums and crap like that. Makes ‘em all shivery inside.”
A force pulled my chair into a spin, until both of my teammates had me pinned in the chair; Leo’s expression dead-serious, Jonah’s stuck in a permanently intoxicated high.
“Dave, we’re both ready to go. We’re into this, man. Even if the brats are lying, it could be good publicity. This place has got its own news station. Think about what would happen if we ever got interviewed—we’d be on TV, man! Us! On TV!”
I exhaled deeply, still unsure. It really felt wrong.
I probably should have followed that instinct. I should have put my foot down, and told them both no—Hell no, that we weren’t going to follow some random kids’ message to drive all the way across the country, just to checkout some place that might end in a bust.
But instead, I looked at their faces, so bright and hopeful, and caved. These guys had good intuition about cases, so it was just natural for me to follow their lead.
“Alright.” I gave in. My blonde comrade let out a sound, half-girlish scream, half whoop, and chest bumped Jonah full force. The poor recipient of his excitement ended up knocked back so hard that he nearly tumbled over the back of his armchair.
I miss those times.
I miss us laughing, joking around in front of the camera. I miss zooming in on Jay, our other camera-guy, as he stuffed his face full of nachos. I miss the way we all shared them, making sure to document our last night before we set off on the trip.
The next day came in a blur, so fast I can only remember small details. Morning ritual, sharing a bathroom with three other roommates, fighting over a piece of toast with Jonah. Our stuff was packed into the van we used on our excursions, stuffed full of bags, boxes, discarded trash, and tons of equipment. I can recall the smell of it, thick of smoke and beer, from the first time we’d decided to give the old vehicle a joy ride. It was both the best and worst night of our lives.
I remember flashes of the road trip, Jay and Jonah singing off key to some classic rock song, Leo head-banging from the driver’s seat, and me, watching it all and laughing. I joined in once, for the guitar solo, while my beanie-headed friend jumped up to belt out the remaining chords in a slow, drawling voice.
Jonah, Jay, Leo, and I.
We were a great team.
Forty miles we drove, on half a tank of gas, a mini-fridge full of Heinekens, and a few bags of potato chips. Jonah made us pull over every so often to relieve himself. Poor kid couldn’t go twenty minutes without peeing. After the fifth time, Leo took away his beer privileges, leaving a very unhappy hat-wearing grump in the back with Jay and I.
We left around seven in the morning, and by the time we passed through Route 85, leading us into North Dakota; it was the same time in the evening. The group decided, collectively, to stop off at an inn for the night. Pulling up nearly empty to a hotel was a no-go for Leo, so he dropped us off to make a quick gas run.
We waved as we watched him go.
It took quicker to unload our stuff into the room than to pack it, and before we knew it, we were all in our respective corners, doing our respective things. Jonah was in the bathroom, relieving the bladder he’d been trying so hard to restrain, Jay was fiddling with his equipment, check and rechecking his camcorder, and I was lying across one of the queen sized beds, staring at my laptop.
I was really unsure about the place we were going to, so I decided to double-check it. Normally, I wasn’t like this at all, jumpy and anxious. My fingers tapped along the keyboard, spelling out the institute’s name in small, blinking letters. The mouse swept over the top link, highlighting the text underneath.
“Anderson’s Memorial Mental Hospital: A Place For Greener Days, A Place For Happier Stays”
It sounded like total bull, but I clicked it anyway. The picture that popped up was the same building that the kids had sent us, only in one piece, uncharred and whitewashed in a grayscale tone. The tall gate that surrounded the place made it look more creepy than inviting. I let out a low whistle, wishing pity on the poor souls who had to deal with living in that place.
At least now they don’t have to worry about that anymore, a sadistic voice in my mind whispered.
Shaking my head to clear away the fog of drowsiness that had clouded over, I kept reading, moving from the photo to scan the article underneath.
“September, 27, 1968
Latest reports given by sources show that mental health of patients at Anderson’s have a fifty-seven percent chance of full recovery, this is nearly double the amount stated in the last five years, as Anderson’s gains more and more recognition with its prowess.
Head psychiatrist and caretaker, Dr. Geoff Anderson has this to say about the steady progress his institute is making,
“The Institute does everything possible in its power to ensure a healthy lifestyle for its patients, full with comfortable room and board, three square meals a day, and medicinal care on a daily basis. All funds appropriated go into taking care of our patients, and helping them out of this haze that has enraptured them into such nonsensical states.
Our motto is, ‘Give Fully, Take Foolishly’. We do not ask for what we receive, but we do hope to spread our services across the country, to give every poor soul like the ones we take care of here a chance at redemption.”
It went on like this, leading into charts, one-on-one reports from recovering patients, statements from nurses, and placements by reporters to potential donors.
I clicked back, changing my search to the fire that destroyed the building, and clicked on the link that followed. The summary was simple, yet, truth be told, a bit unnerving to read.
“June 4, 1971
Over five hundred patients, doctors, and nurses at Anderson’s were killed in the massacre that began, just previously before the devastating fire. The perpetrator that initiated the massacre remains unknown, as all possible evidence was destroyed in the blazing flames that engulfed the building, and the inhabitants inside.
Of these killed were, by alphabetical order:
A flushing sound broke my concentration, and I glanced up, seeing Jonah exiting the bathroom, wiping his wet hands across his sweatshirt lazily. He looked around, his head on a slow swivel, and spoke the words that broke the spell of our calm.
Jay looked up, and we locked eyes. It’d been a while since Leo had driven off, most of our equipment was still in the van, and he had gone to get a full tank of gas. Like a projectile in a slingshot, Jay leapt up, and began rifling viciously through our duffel bags, gutting each one of its holdings, sifting through every shirt, pair of pants, and booklet for one thing.
The map to the Institute.
Each bag lay emptied on the floor, across the bed, and strewn around the room in a mess. Jay stood, his hands gripping the mop of black on his head, as he took in deep, shuddering hyperventilations.
“Not here,” he breathed, “it’s not here.”
“What the Hell do you mean, it’s ‘not here’?” I snapped, scrambling forward to do some digging on my own. Jonah and I knocked through everything over and over, unfolding every tiny piece of paper, emptying every dresser drawer, but he was right. The map was missing, and so was Jonah.
“What the Hell does he think he’s doing, going off on his own?” I was trying hard to keep from screaming. Jonah looked close to wetting his pants.
Jay took a deep breath, and furrowed his brows in deep concentration. “Just before we left…the night before we left…we got into a fight.”
“You two were already asleep.” He admitted, looking sheepish. He dragged his hands through his hair again, pulling the skin on his scalp taught with stress. “We were discussing management of the channel. Of everything, actually. He wanted a bigger cut on the final product, more screentime, more money. I told him we should keep it the way it was, split between the four of us.”
I lowered myself to the corner of the bed, listening intently. Was he saying Leo had gotten power-hungry?
“He got mad. Pissed, actually. Started screaming, saying I’d be nowhere without him, or his equipment. Said it’d be better off if he just went and did his own thing. I managed to calm him down with a few beers, and we fell asleep after that. I didn’t think…he’d actually go through with it.”
“Leo went solo?!” Jonah squeaked. He looked utterly terrified at the thought of being abandoned by his leader. “What’re we gonna do without him? He’s got all our stuff, and the car, man! He’s got the car!”
“We’re not doing bull without him.” I snapped. Both heads turned to look at me, surprise and concern reflected in Jay’s eyes, panic and terror evident in Jonah’s. Angrily, I swept our stuff to the side, uncovering the hat I usually wore. I pulled the faded Bears cap onto my head, staring at my remaining crew with lava boiling through my system.
I was so, so stupid.
“We’re going after that sorry S-O-B, and we’re gonna kick his butt for leaving. Then we’re going to pack up, go home, and make up like real men. We’re gonna throw the biggest beer-a-thon known to mankind.”
Both faces crinkled comically, enjoying the very prospect of the idea.
“Jay, grab your camcorder. We’re going on a trip.”
We had to take a cab to get to where the map Jonah had pulled up on his phone told us to go. The driver stopped short, just of the gate, and we exchanged thanks, stuffing what was left of our money stash into his hands.
The car peeled off so fast that the smoke covering the ground felt more like mist, deep and ominous. Jay scanned the sight with his camera, sucking in a breath as he surveyed the tall columns of stone that held the gate in place, each crumbling and shattering in a different place.
“Jonah, slip through that gap there and let us in from the other side.”
“Don’t need to.” He pointed out, staring wide-eyed at the gap in the side of the busted metal cage, “Look’s like Leo’s already here.”
“Good.” I growled. Fire was coursing through my veins. I was going to find our friend, beat him senseless, and make him promise to never pull something this stupid ever again.
I was the idiot.
We slipped through unnoticed, completely abandoned by all signs of life. The night airs hung heavy and thick, pitch black but for the light given off by the van’s headlights, and Jonah’s phone. I walked up the desolate vehicle, shutting off the ignition with a sudden sense of dread. The feeling felt like an iron ball in the pit of my stomach.
Why was it here alone?
Why was it still running?
Why were the keys in the ignition?
I pocketed the item, and turned to face the building the lights were illuminating. It was a lot more sinister looking in the dark, covered in shadows, and broken at the edges, where the wood had rotted away and fallen somewhere in the inside. This place was dangerous, and now that we couldn’t see where we were going to be headed, it was even worse.
“Y-you sure about this?” The youngest of our group mumbled, his hands shaking the light in his phone violently. “Maybe we could just go and leave him to walk back to the hotel—“
“No.” I pressed. “We’re going in after him.”
This time, I felt my reasoning was different. Something had…happened. It was a guess, but from what I’d seen, a deserted car, still running, and a missing crew member…it was a good guess. My ears started buzzing, the moment I took a step towards the collapsing Institute. It was low and irritating, like the hum of a mosquito. Angrily, I swatted at my ear, unable to cease it.
“Are there bugs around here?” Jay asked. I felt the edge of his camera brush my shoulder.
A few steps forward, my foot hit something hard. It wasn’t hard enough to be metal, but not soft enough to be wood. I guessed it was somewhere in between, like plastic, or linoleum. The same feeling continued where my foot landed, and I realized we were inside. It was even darker than it was outside. For a moment I froze, my body going ramrod stiff where I stood. It was like knowing you had a large, poisonous spider crawling along your body. If I moved…If I moved—
Then the feeling was gone. My limbs went limp, and I could walk again. I didn’t want to. I wanted to listen to the rush of instinct that came after that moment, to grab Jay and Jonah and run.
I really should have.
The farther we got the more conscious I was of the noises around us. Somewhere in the darkness, a broken pipe dripped with residue moisture, the steady thumping sound raising the hair on the back of my neck. The floor beneath us clicked with each of our steps, varying in pace and force. Jay let out sounds of appreciation, able to take in what we couldn’t see with his night-vision.
“This place was lush.” He spoke into the abyss, his voice bouncing off invisible walls. “They’ve got plush chairs, glass tables—are Asylums supposed to have glass anywhere in the building?”
“We’re in the lobby.” I muttered. “This is probably where visitors gathered to talk with doctors and to sign appointments for their loved ones and stuff.”
“D-do you see any sign of Leo?” Jonah whispered, still loud due to the large echo.
“Nah.” Jay replied, sounding as calm as ever. “He’s probably upstairs, checking out the rooms and cells and crap.”
“Upstairs?” He sounded ready to faint.
Feeling around in the dark, I grabbed his shoulder and squeezed. “Don’t worry man, we’ll be alright.”
Another hand shook my own shoulder in return, from the opposite side. With the movement, came Jonah’s voice. “If you say so, man.”
I froze, gripping the cloth beneath my hand tightly. My throat ran dry. This wasn’t Jonah.
“Jay?” I croaked out.
“Yeah, Dave? You find something?”
He was up ahead.
The thoughts ran together in my brain, coming out as mush from my mouth.
This wasn’t Jonah. This wasn’t Jay. If it was Leo he would have said something. Yelled, screamed, jumped.
This body was completely still, unmoving except for the occasional twitch.
“Jay…” I whimpered. “Turn around.”
“Dude, what is i–?” His voice trailed off into silence. Slowly, that quiet broke into a soft mumbling sound. “God, no.”
“No. God, no.” He spit out a string of curses, the mumbling pooling into a sound reminiscent of a cry.
“Letgoletgoletgoletgo—DAVE LET GO OF IT!”
The humming in my ears burst, the sound getting louder and louder. Jay’s hand on my shoulder turned into a claw, and I could hear him sobbing with fear.
“What is it.” He kept mumbling. “What is it.”
I pulled back. Another hand snatched out and grasped my wrist, wet and slimy. An iron scent hit me, full on. My stomach churned with the thick salty smell. The humming burned in my ears, coming out as a piercing squeak through my brain. It was like when a mic needed to be tuned, and let out that single, deafening sound that could make your ears bleed.
It sounded like a scream. Loud, high-pitched, and painful. A woman’s scream.
Jay again. I felt a hand bunch into my shirt and drag me forward. There was a sickening sound, like bone snapping, and my wrist slipped from its captor. Jonah held onto me as we were jerked forward, all letting out one terrified series of screams as the wail echoed behind us.
Run. Run. Run. Run. Don’t stop. Don’t let go. Run.
I should have stopped running. Or at least, slowed down.
Jonah. Poor, young Jonah. There was a tug from where his hand sat, followed by the sound of his terrified scream echoing in the dark. I reached out to grab his hand with mine, but I moved the wrong arm. With a single jerk, his fingers fell away from my shirt, and his shriek quickly fell away into the shadows.
“Jonah?” I stopped, turning one-eighty. I couldn’t see for crap, but the soft light of his phone was near my feet. He’d dropped it when he’d been…
“JONAH?” I called out, shining the beam every direction. The trail we’d run was coated in something slick, slippery to the touch. My shoes squeaked against the surface as I traced the way we’d came, screaming for our friend the entire way.
“Dave! Stop running, I can’t keep up!” Jay jogged up from the opposite direction, holding up a hand to shield his eyes form the phone’s brightness.
I cursed under my breath, breathing deeply. With what was left of my voice, I gave one last scream. “JONAH!”
“Jonah! Jonah! Jonah…!”
My voice sprang back to my ears, greeted in reply with silence as it faded. Jonah was gone. Taken by that…whatever it was. Whoever it was. It had grabbed me, but I had gotten away and now it had Jonah what was it going to do to him where would we find him oh God he’s so young what were we thinking—
“Dave!” My head snapped back, stars spinning around my eyelids with the force of Jay’s slap. “Calm down!”
He shook my shoulders, his eyes wide and doe-like. “Calm down, Dave. Breathe. We can do this. We’ll find Jonah, and Leo. Okay? Stay with me, buddy.”
How was he so calm?
“It took him. Jay, it took him! You saw it and now it’s got him—what is it, Jay? What the Hell took Jonah?”
His face paled. Sweat pooled around his forehead, running in streaks across his face. A few droplets pooled across the patch on his chin, and when he shook his head, they dropped, one by one, onto my shirt.
“I…I don’t know, man. It looked like…a lady. This lady—she was wearing one of those hospital gowns, but it was, I don’t know, cut up and stuff. Covered in…it wasn’t blood. It was too dark to be blood. And she was all skinny and veiny and…” he cut off with a huff, “It’s not important. What’s important is that we keep our heads and find our friends. We’ll find our brothers, okay? And then we’re gonna go back home, and Leo’s gonna owe us so much beer. Okay, man. Okay…Dave?”
He pulled me in a little, shouldering my stress by leaning our foreheads together. I took in a deep breath, nodding.
We should have left.
In the dim light I could see him grin, shaking my shoulders. He clapped me on the back, and still inhaling my lungs back into rehabilitation, I returned the gesture. My legs felt so weak, buckling and shaking with each step. The liquid I’d run into made each step squeak, each movement slip.
We walked like that for a long, long time, me stumbling and tripping on my own feet, Jay shouldering my weight and calling out our younger comrade’s name. The humming noise never went away, but it was softer.
“The battery’s dying.” I mumbled, staring at the red symbol at the corner of the phone’s screen. “We’re gonna run out of light soon.”
“Don’t worry, man. I’ve got my camcorder on full charge. We ain’t losing sight any time soon.”
“Oh, good. I think…I can stand now.” He helped me slip into a standing position, and I muttered out thanks in reply.
I underappreciated them. They’d been my buddies for so long, but I’d never realized how great of friends they actually were.
And now we’d lost two of them.
“Do you hear that?” Jay whispered. I stopped, focusing my ears on the distant noise he had picked up.
Footsteps. Approaching fast. Running.
“Is that…?” The way he tensed next to me, I didn’t need to finish my question.
“Run.” He breathed.
We turned and ran back the way we came, hoping the sound would fade like it had last time. But the monster had taken one, and showed no sign of leaving without another. Nails raked across my back, long and sharp. They sliced through my shirt, scraping the skin so fiercely I could feel the blood springing up where the wounds lay.
I let out a grunt of pain, but pushed forward, ignoring the burning pain in my legs. I was so close to collapsing, just from these short spurts into the dark. Jay’s hand wrapped around my arm, pulling me away from the claws for a second time. We kept going up, faltering awkwardly up the staircase, him leading the way with his recorder, I only trying to keep the same tempo.
The noise in my ears. The same as before, sharp, biting, painful. Static buzzed through my mind, reflecting across my vision. The wooden stairs creaked and bent where our feet touched. One board snapped, and my leg jolted down, stuck in the hole.
I wish I’d fallen through.
I felt Jay let go. At first I feared that he’d left me to save his own skin, but then I felt his hands under my arms, lifting me back to my feet. “You okay, man?”
There was a moment’s pause. He’d dropped the recorder, but the wail hadn’t stopped.
Breath pulsed across my neck, cold and wet. The sound of its breathing was murky and raspy, like a smoker’s cough. Slowly, so painfully, painfully slow, I felt Jay lean down to grab his camera. A hand moved across my neck, the sharp nails pressing into my jugular. I held up the phone, palm shaking, to look at it.
But the moment the light illuminated the skin, just a flash of grayed, rotting, torn away piles of pale scrap against yellow bone and withered flesh, the monster let out a scream and tore forward. Jay let out a scream, so like Jonah’s.
It cut off with a wet squelch. Something warm sprayed my face, wet and thick. Iron. Salt. Pain.
“Jay…?” I shivered, hating the feel of the warm liquid on my face. It brought up so many thoughts, so many ideas, none of them I wanted to accept.
“Jay. Jay. Jay…”
He didn’t reply, no matter how many times I said his name.
“No. Jay, no. Jay, say something. Please. Please, Jay. Man, say something. Jay, please…”
There was something crumpled at my feet. I didn’t want to look. I didn’t want to see it, to accept it, but I had no choice. Not with those…sounds. Those horrible, horrible sounds.
It was like someone trying to drink the last of their soda through an ice-clogged straw. It was soggy, greedy, and made my skin shiver. Soft prickles slipped all across my body, growing more and more intense as I lifted the phone to see what was happening before me.
I shouldn’t have.
It was…what Jay had said. A woman, of indiscernible age, on her hands and knees. Her skin was translucent, pulsing with veins and giving full view of the bones and organs that lay within. Something like a pink rope pooled around her knees, hanging out from under the bottom of her dress.
Her intestines. Pulsing, and flowing with the red they were absorbing, spilled out their intake at my feet. I took a single step back, my legs kicking at the open hole just below where I stepped. I sucked in a breath to try and regain my balance, able to push back onto the lower step not a moment too soon.
But it caught her…its attention.
The head of the creature whirled around to stare at me, the blue and red streaked cranium covered with wispy, thin strands of blonde hair. It had a full head of hair. It was wearing clothes. It was a person.
It was a woman. No matter how unhumanlike, it was a woman.
A pair of empty sockets stared in his direction, spilling a thin trickle of black liquid from their holes. The same liquid pooled out of her mouth, across those small, shark-like teeth, and onto the body of his dead friends. One hand clutched a beanie, bloodstained and holding tightly to the strands of blonde within.
It was Jonah’s hat.
Why did I keep standing there?
The other claw held a handful of Jay’s face, my friend’s eye hanging from the thin cord leading to the mass of flesh it was attached to. Below it, he gurgled, choking on the red liquid that spurted up in geysers from his open throat. The static in my ears was dying out, making way for the groaning sound the monster was making. It caught sight of the phone’s light, and let out a horrified shriek, like a child that had fallen from a swing and scraped its knee.
Its skin spread and burst, like a burning film reel, and with another howl, it leapt out of my view, up the stairs.
Like a weight, dragged myself to where Jay lied, his mouth spouting river after river of blood.
“No. No. Jay, stay with me. Jay, hold on man.” Jonah’s beanie lie discarded on the stairs, dyed red in newly and previously acquired blood. I grabbed it and pressed it to the open wound, trying to apply as much pressure as I could. I didn’t have any sort of medical kits. Why hadn’t we brought any? Why did we have to come out here? I was going to be the last one left, all my friends were dead, and if I found Leo I was going to skin him alive—
“D…ave…” My dying comrade managed through a mouthful of crimson.
“No, don’t say anything. I’m going to…get help. Keep this on your neck—okay?” I moved, just a fraction, when his hand snapped up, pulling mine into place.
“N…o….st…st–,” he coughed, a fountain leaving his mouth to land on my face.
Tears pooled in my eyes. Oh God, my friend was dying and I was sitting here crying. Sobbing. I couldn’t do a damn thing, and he was dying, they were all dying, they were all dead and here I was.
“Alright.” I leaned down, pulling my blood-soaked friend closer. Jay had always been a bigger guy than me. It’s something I got teased about regularly, but he was always nice about it, never really teasing me like Leo or Jonah had. “Alright, man. C’mon, you’re gonna be just fine. Okay? We’re gonna…we’re gonna go, and find Jonah…and Leo’s coming this way right now.”
“Y…eah?” I could see it in his eyes, he didn’t believe me. But he replied anyway, going on with this last memory.
“Yeah, man. We’re gonna go find Jonah. He’s probably hiding somewhere. And we’re gonna…we’re gonna go back to that damn hotel room and…man, we’re gonna raise Hell. We’re gonna get pizza and cake and ice-creams, and we’re gonna invite some hot girls over and go swimming in the hotel’s pool. And we’re gonna drink and drink and drink till we pass out.”
“Sound gr…ea…t.” His words were slowing. Frantically, I plastered a smile on my face, willing the tears to stop. My hands bunched into Jonah’s hat, my nails already dried and reapplied with a red polish I knew no remover would ever manage to get off.
His head bobbed, and I leaned closer. His lips brushed my ear, his voice so weak I could barely hear it.
I choked back a soggy laugh. “I’m glad you’re my friend too.”
The words trailed off. I leaned back, my confusion dissolving into hysterical sobs as I watched his eye roll back and his head slump into my shoulder. The blood flow trickling across my hand slowed, eventually coming to a stop.
I didn’t want it to. I wanted it to keep flowing, so that I would know that there was at least a single fraction of life still left in him. I didn’t want…he couldn’t be.
“Jay…brother. Open your eyes. C’mon. C’mon…” I choked violently, pressing my tear-soaked face into his blood crusted hair.
I cried, like a child.
I cried, in the dark.
I cried, alone.
I cried until I was sick, and then kept going. Pulling myself from his corpse was like inviting Death, and now, I was. I walked up the stairs, instead of down. As I ascended, images of our life before this had begun flashed through my brain, like a film reel.
We were riding bikes, joking and laughing.
I walked up, into a place that was filled with bulbs, unbusted, luminescent, and still flickering. The room it illuminates is comprised of cells, burned and twisted, the doors all swung open, the beds turned into strips of charred fabric, and the discarded flesh-white bones.
Across the room, a corpse lies with its entrails spread across the floor. Black hair peeks out from where it lies.
The remains of Leo are everywhere, acting as a pathway for the decaying legs that draw closer and closer.
Sharing our food and sneaking sips of beer, winking at passerby and laughing at each other’s buzzed antics.
Static roared in my ears. Jonah’s dead phone dangled from one hand, Jay’s busted recorder in the other.
We were kids again, climbing trees and waving to our crappy webcam.
Humming. My legs gave in, and I dropped to the floor, paying no mind to the blood that dripped across my eyes. Jonah’s hat was a size too small.
Older. We had a website, and were all arguing over the color scheme. Leo wanted blue and black. Jay wanted green. I wanted red.
Footsteps. Not fast this time, but slow. Shuffling. The lights spark, and go out.
Even older. We’re introduced to the newest member of our team. A shy, trembling blonde boy smiles and holds out his hand to me.
Slowly, a hand touches my throat. The moan is right next to my ear, growing louder every second.
We get the van, and go for our first joyride.
I close my eyes. I see my friends, for the very last time.
Leo grins at me, giving us a thumbs-up for the first job we ever completed. We were all so proud.
There is pain, quick and simple. Merciful.
We were all so foolish.